The Paradox of Fearing God

And they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!”

“Don’t be afraid,” Moses answered them, “for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of him will keep you from sinning!”

As the people stood in the distance, Moses approached the dark cloud where God was. (Exodus 20:19-21)

Fear Not

(22/365 days of Fear Not)

When I read passages like this it reminds me how limited my human brain is. Because, honestly, this seems like several levels of contradiction and paradox and impossible rolled into a riddle: Don’t be afraid to approach God, but, be afraid of God.

What?

I’ve been approaching these Fear Not-related scriptures mostly in the order in which they appear in the Bible. Until I hit this one yesterday and decided to skip over it, to come back to it.

But, this morning, as I read through a devotional by John Piper, he referenced these verses and I decided it was time to come back to them here.

His interpretation gave me pause. Great pause.

The kind of great pause that gives you time to absorb the meaning and to become alive to a truth you didn’t know before that moment.

Until this morning, I’ve always heard that the references in scripture to fearing God had to do with revering Him. Having a holy reverence for His absolute holiness.

But John Piper introduced me to a whole new idea and that encouraged me to come back to these verses and include them in this journey through God’s word sooner rather than later. A journey to discover whether there are 365 references to not being afraid and a journey that draws us closer to God.

And these verses seem an important part of that journey.

Here, God is telling us not to be afraid to approach Him, to speak to Him, to enter into His presence and to have a relationship with Him. But in the very next breath, He tells us to fear Him. But don’t miss the caveat He includes: fear Him enough to keep from sinning.

In other words, fear His (acknowledged) wrath over and hatred of sin enough to avoid sinning.

But that’s not really possible, is it?

And that’s why this verse is so powerful.

Because here is where Piper’s interpretation drew me deeper into God’s presence: Let the fear of sinning against a holy and powerful and perfect God drive you into His presence so that He may be your refuge of peace and grace and mercy.

God knows we cannot avoid sinning and that’s why we need to stay close to Him.

That’s why we cannot be afraid to approach Him and to bask in His mercy.

Sin should scare us into the arms of God.

And in the arms of God, there is nothing for us to fear.

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